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PUBLIC ADVOCATE FOR THE CITY OF NEW YORK

Letitia James
January 8, 2015

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman
New York State Unified Court System
Office of Court Administration, Rm. 852
25 Beaver Street
New York, NY 10004
Dear Judge Lippman:
I am writing to request that the New York State Unified Court System reassess the
feasibility of offering a Veterans Treatment Court in the borough of Manhattan.
Following this, I would recommend the system submit an application to the Veterans
Treatment Court Planning Initiative (VTCPI), which is designed to assist jurisdictions in
the planning and development of Veterans Treatment Court programs. While there are
programs tailored to veterans in Manhattan, individuals have expressed concern to me
that the borough does not have a dedicated veterans treatment court along with a mentor
program comprised of volunteer veteran mentors.
A survey from the Justice Department found that an estimated 60 percent of the 140,000
veterans in Federal and State prisons across the United States were struggling with
substance abuse, while approximately 25 percent reported being under the influence of
drugs at the time of their offense. Here in New York City, we have seen such horrific
cases like that of Jerome Murdough, a former marine who died in an overheated jail cell
on Riker’s Island where he was sent after being unable to post bail for a misdemeanor
trespassing arrest in Manhattan. According to his family, Murdough suffered from
bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Veterans Treatment Courts are designed to meet the particular needs of veterans involved
in the criminal justice system with the goal of offering dedicated services to those who
have served our country. These courts are modeled after drug courts, which in their more
than 20 years of existence have proven to be extremely successful: a study funded by the
Department of Justice examined re‐arrest rates for drug court graduates and found that
nationally, 84 percent of drug court graduates have not been re‐arrested and charged with
a serious crime in the first year after graduation, and 72 percent have no arrests at the
two‐year mark. The overarching model is to seek treatment rather than prison for
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defendants. With high success rates for this model, one wonders what other services
could have been provided to Jerome Murdough.
In addition to VTCPI, financial assistance to start these courts is available from the
Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which in FY 2013, issued $2.5 million in grants
specifically designated to implement veteran treatment courts around the country. That
was up from just over $1 million the previous fiscal year. The New York State Health
Foundation has also given funding to train court personnel.
Please let me know what I can do as the Public Advocate for the City of New York to
help support this initiative. Thank you and I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Letitia James
Public Advocate for the City of New York
cc: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.
Unified Court System Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti
Unified Court System First Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks
Gregory Murray, Director of the Unified Court System’s Office of Public Affairs